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ALTHOUGH some of the exchanges were heated, the recent discussion at a City Council meeting about how the council was exercising its oversight authority on spending was a valuable exercise in understanding how government is supposed to work in this country.
The importance of the discussion is not just in the amounts being discussed or the purposes for which they are to be used but in coming to a working arrangement in which both the executive and legislative organs of local government can best function.
At its Dec. 6 meeting, the council approved more than $7.5 million in capital improvement projects that Mayor Kristen Brown had requested. However, she took issue with some of the restrictions attached to the measures, noting that they were unwarranted and inconsistent with practices of previous administrations and councils.
Attached to the approval was an amendment that requires projects exceeding the greater of 105 percent or $5,000 of the estimated cost to gain council approval.
Supporters of the mayor have suggested the council is micromanaging the activities of the executive branch.
Members of the council respond that they are simply doing what is required of them by state statute.
The bottom line on this discussion is simple. Fiscal oversight is indeed the responsibility of the City Council. If, as Mayor Brown stated at the meeting, previous councils did not exercise that responsibility dutifully then those councils are at fault.
That said, it is critical that this does not become an exercise in micromanagement. Both the administration and the council have to work together in developing a streamlined process free of nit-picking and highly inefficient delays. City officials need to have some leeway in spending to adjust to unforeseen situations while at the same time operating under reasonable limits imposed by the council.
Whether the limits in place are reasonable, it is likely to be a matter of continued debate, but both sides have to refrain from political “gotcha” games and find ways to work together in an efficient and productive manner.
These are not situations in which both governing bodies can go their separate ways. The mayor and the council have to find ways to work together while not surrendering any of the responsibilities with which they have been entrusted.
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